University of Jamestown women's volleyball was greeted with an impressively large crowd for its home opener Friday at Harold Newman Arena.
After starting the season with eight matches on the road, it was a lot to take in for junior middle blocker Britta Knudson.
"It was kind of intimidating, I'm not going to lie," Knudson laughed. "It was nerve-wracking just seeing everyone, but it felt good to finally be back."
The Jimmies (8-1) fell out the NAIA's top 25 rankings this week, but they certainly looked every bit as tough as past Jon Hegerle-coached sides against Dickinson State University (1-8). Jamestown swept the Blue Hawks 25-7, 25-14, 25-19 behind Knudson's nine kills and a match-high 10 from freshman outside hitter Anna Holen.
But probably like any coach who had just led his team to the NAIA national tournament's round of 16, Hegerle applied a little pressure to the brakes.
"Sometimes we can look pretty good," Hegerle said. "We're able to play at a high level, but our skin isn't very thick yet. So when things start to unravel, and when teams put pressure on us and do things we're not used to, we need to get better at saying 'Hey, we're OK,' and being tough and going through that. That just comes from experience."
The Jimmies lost six seniors and seven starters off last season's 23-win program. Jamestown's front low looks entirely different without the likes of Madison Wendel, Haley Glasoe and Morgan Hensch, but Knudson—waiting in the wings—has not disappointed.
The Bismarck Century product entered the match fourth in the NAIA in blocks per set (1.37), while also boasting a solid .331 hitting percentage. She hit .643 against the Blue Hawks and tallied five block assists.
"I am surprised," Knudson said of her strong start. "But I definitely have a lot of support and help from my team. They set the block for me."
Senior outside Kori Buchanan posted five kills on Friday, while Kennedy Conzemius, Isabel Wedell and Corina Ruud each finished with four. But Hegerle said to not overlook the play of his rock-solid back row.
Former Jamestown High School standout Julina Niemeier scored 11 digs and is third in the NAIA in digs per set (6.6). A senior, it's hard to remember what the Jimmies' backline looked like before Niemeier entered the fray.
"I thought our outsides Kori and Anna did a really nice job and managed the ball well, and that's what you need as an outside hitter because you don't get all the great sets," Hegerle said. "But I think the thing that's probably helped us most is our back row, with Julina Niemeier, Meghan Orr and Sydney Ellingson, they're just so scrappy and they're passing so well."
Knudson started the match with a kill in the middle, en route to the convincing 25-7 set victory. Megan Gaffaney, another former JHS Blue Jay standout, sparked UJ in the second at the service line. The freshman sent three straight aces to the floor to shoot the Jimmies ahead 13-9 in the eventual 11-point victory.
The Blue Hawks hung around in the final frame trailing 18-16. But a block by Wedell, a free-ball spike by Knudson and Gaffaney's fourth and final ace of the match kicked off a match-ending 7-3 Jimmie run.
Miranda Lowman (17) and Jackie Meiklejohn (14) combined for 31 assists in what was the Jimmies' 17th straight win over the Blue Hawks. The Jimmies get back to GPAC play Sept. 11 at Mount Marty (S.D.).
"We distributed the ball pretty evenly. We try to distribute our sets so other teams can't just focus on one player," Hegerle said. "This was a great welcome home. We had a great crowd and it was great to see the student section full."
(RV) Jamestown 3, Dickinson State 0
DS 7 14 19
UJ 25 25 25
DS—Kills: Kadara Marshall 5, Cassie North 5. Assists: Keera Stookey 10. Digs: Makenzie Digesualdo 10.
UJ—Kills: Anna Holen 10, Britta Knudson 9, Kori Buchanan 5, Kennedy Conzemius 4, Isabel Wedell 4, Corina Ruud 4, Ellie Michaletz 3. Assists: Miranda Lowman 17, Jackie Meiklejohn 14. Aces: Megan Gaffaney 4, Buchanan 4, Lowman 1. Digs: Julina Niemeier 11, Lowman 10, Meghan Orr 8, Gaffaney 3, Meiklejohn 3, Sydney Ellingson 3. Blocks: Knudson 5, Conzemius 4, Holen 2, Ruud 2, Wedell 1.
Records: Jamestown 8-1. Dickinson State 1-8.